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Ministry at a strategic academic crossroads

In 1942 at the University of Chicago, scientists created the first working nuclear reactor, setting in motion the development of the atomic bomb.

Chi Alpha leaders hope their recent beginnings in Chicago will prove as world changing. The city is home to 114 colleges and universities and 400,000 students, many from other countries.

"There is a tremendous need for the power of the Spirit on these campuses," says Eric Lerew, Illinois District Chi Alpha director, who is raising up a team of campus missionaries. "There need to be communities where the Holy Spirit can touch lives."

Until recently, there was no Chi Alpha group on the major campuses in Chicago. Lerew’s strategy is to put full-time campus missionaries on every major campus in the area.

At the University of Chicago, graduate and professional students outnumber undergraduates 2 to 1. "Research is paramount," says campus missionary Ed Gitre.

Most of the schools at U of C are ranked among the top 10 in the nation. The school also has one of the largest academic bookstores in the country — a basement packed with maze-like shelves. A stroll through the campus reveals advertisements for churches that embrace homosexuality, false doctrines and godless love.

Gitre says that the vast population of graduate students presents a unique challenge to Chi Alpha ministry.

"Urban Chicago ministry isn’t like any I’ve ever been in," says campus missionary Sherri Slagell. "You have to take the principles you’ve learned and adjust them for an urban setting."

For Slagell, to begin reaching the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) meant starting with prayer. She invited Chi Alpha groups to prayer walk the campus. In the spring she hosted a prayer walking seminar, and many people spent a cold Chicago day walking the campus and praying for the students.

"We’ve had 95 individuals here on campus interceding for the students, faculty and Chi Alpha throughout the semester," Slagell says.

When several Chinese students came to Slagell’s home for Easter, she gave them Chinese Bibles. In church, each was able to follow along with the pastor in a Bible in his or her language.

"We need workers who can live here and assist full-time missionaries," Lerew says. "We need people with gifts in evangelism and music and the arts. Also, interested students need to let us know they are attending a Chicago school. On many campuses, you have to have 10 to 20 students to even start a group. Our hands are tied until we have students that come on board."

Lerew’s vision is to have a building to train campus ministers to impact the next generation of world leaders at this strategic crossroads.

– Kevin Dawson


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